“Fast, great food, but don’t get in the wrong queue!”
Friday lunchtime is down as a big treat for The Cooktwit. In order to maintain the racing snake hips and the thunderous six pack (pack it in – Ed) Monday to Thursday are days of rest in the food dept. These days are spent either fasting (see my take on fasting here) or munching on grass. Weather permitting I search out some decent streetfood, (though since the loss of “MummaSchnitzel” that’s becoming a little tough) after that invariably I end up at Katsouris Deli. It’s housed in a grand old building on the corner of Deansgate and John Dalton Street. It’s an offshoot of the original Greek deli that marks the entrance to the famous Bury market.
Entering at either entrance you invariably meet a lengthy queue. Don’t despair! If its hot food you want simply hang in there and walk at a steady pace. You will soon hear the shriek, like a ‘banchee’ with an ingrowing toenail, “NEXT!”
Be ready though, woe betide that you get close to the hot counter without knowing what you want! Ive seen grown men weep and skulk sheepishly out into the street with little more than a bag of crisps! Such is the rabid efficiency of a lunchtime service ‘tyrekickers’ are quickly shown the door.
But, once you’ve done your homework, the rewards are bountiful. A flavoursome feast for little over a fiver is there for the taking. The decor and furniture is functional. A periphery of vinyl banquette, supplemented with central round tables and bistro chairs provides a good deal of standard seating. I prefer to sit on the high stools which hedge up to the touch down bench which runs all down one side. From here one can gaze into the bustle of the busy street outside. The fun is boundless watching people getting run over at the busy crossroads, dodging the green lights and cyclists running the red lights. That said if you really want action there is some payment seats outside where you get the sound as well!
Basic high level signage gives you the combo’s available. The hot carvery section below lets you see what you’re getting. Spicy paella rice (no seafood though), salad, jacket potatoes or various ‘bunnage’ are the ‘carby’ accompaniments to your meat.
My usual is the salad which you serve yourself from the catering bins that run down one side. I pick the protein from the carvery, sliced pork, gammon, lamb, pulled pork, ham, chicken piri piri, big frankfurters its all top stuff. They all come with their own trimmings, apple sauce, barbecue sauce, onions, stuffing. The salad offer is also top draw. Big chillies, boiled eggs, humus, potato salad, bags of greenery, mainly rocket with sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, chick peas, olives all with a mediterranean bias.
If I’m short of funds you can’t beat the soups. there are normally two on offer, homemade, tasty and £2 a pop whether served in a big paper cup or in a big dish, and it comes with a few swabs of bread to mop up.
So there you have it, a quick Cook Twit recommendation on how to get yourself a decent feed on a busy lunchtime in down town Manchester. There are obviously lots more to go at, but so far this is as good as it gets for me. Give it a go.
“Just been kicked in the Baltics! And it was good!”
Some of you may know I work dead centre of Manchester town. Indeed if you google Manchester you get within 20 yards of where I work, Lloyd Street near Albert Square. It’s a rather austere thoroughfare that connects the thriving, shop laden bustle of Deansgate and the spiritual heart that is the magnificent town hall. Sat quietly beneath the action lies the glowing red embers of a new vodka bar from the east (and I don’t mean Hull).
The Baltic Cellar is set low beneath Lloyd House. You step downwards from the street. I’ve been to Lithuania a couple of times. The dark red and brick interior, dimly lit takes me straight back to the underground caverns of Vilnius. Rich red banquettes mark out the eating areas whilst a cavernous wooden floor leads to an impressive bar. It’s well finished, no up cycled chairs, exposed cable trays and scaffolding pipes here. It’s all rather agreeable really.
As it is new it has been pushing its lunchtime menu. Two courses for £10.95. Nothing too special there I hear you cry. Latterly though, it’s been peddling this deal at half price. Two courses for just over a fiver, now that is fighting talk. The menu is certainly different. If I was ever on Saturday Kitchen my food hell would be beetroot. ‘Borsch’ the beetroot based soup of Russia is a feature here so I gave that a miss, but there’s a lot to go at.
After asking for volunteers in the office I eventually convinced twenty one plucky souls to venture into the bowels of the building and give it a try. To help out I nipped down, grabbed some menus and gave the ‘Baltic Cellarists’ the heads up. “We’ll be down in half an hour, can chef manage it?” We trooped down. I handed in our list. Valentina and Neesha swept into action, several bottles of ‘Kynep’ (Polish beer?) with matching tankards were soon in check. The happy throng settled into their matching bays, chirping to each other gaily beneath the chilled dance beats wafting from the PA.
I had spicy beef stew. Like everything it arrived on a flat brown platter. I had it with brown rice; I could have had rice, buckwheat, chips, salad or mash potato! To be fair it wasn’t that spicy, but it was tasty enough. The fresh, pleasant garnish seems to be standard on all dishes. Shredded carrot in garlic mayo, tomato, lettuce and cucumber. Whilst for me it lacked a little in presentation and style, I seemed to be in the minority. Working with a team of flashing young blades, the younger palettes chomping through chicken cutlets, chicken and mushroom stew, pork stroganoff, dumplings and (for the veggies) carrot and mushroom cutlets all had the thumbs firmly up and raved most of the afternoon, so who am I to say? As you can imagine turning up with a party of twenty one, we did stress the crew a bit! The food arriving in spasms. It was all hot though.
I would say for £5.45, two courses is a bargain, I would question whether the Manchester office brigade will be queuing up when it’s back at £10.95? For that the service has to be snappy and the food bob on.
That said a few days later I ventured in once more. This time as a guest at the launch party. The pre gig splurge promising flames and mystery! I joined the queue on the roped off red carpet, I felt like a film star! The flames roared from the arms of a scantily clad, pirouetting nymph. All this while we were ticked off the list. Flames and drama, on Lloyd Street! As it was I ventured in behind BBC sports presenting legend Mike Bushell. We slugged a few glasses of champers together, very pleasant. Valentina, Neesha and the crew balanced trays of Tibetan caviar, smoked salmon puffs, cheese and bacon wrapped olives. The packed bar cleared them out.
Before sitting down for the taster grub, the nymphet had morphed into a slinky body stocking and with the aid of some ancient farming implements she started to contort into shapes that I would have doubted possible from anyone in human form. The throng looked on agog.
With most of the visitors now soaked in vodka, fizz and birch sap (yes, birch sap!) it was time to sit. We soon settled into our booths of six. More vodka in various flavours was gleefully imbibed. Courses of Russian salad, charcuterie, pickled mackeral and cheese was up first. In fairness it was all pretty good. The charcuterie to my palette as good as anything from Italy or Spain.
We then turned to a taster of seven mains, Chicken Cedar (creamy sauce and nuts), Beef Goulash, Chicken Mushroom, Vegetable Ragu (braised cauliflower and more in a tomato sauce), Pork Stroganoff and Bigos (stewed sauerkraut, cabbage, smoked sausage, ribs and mushroom) all delivered in a ‘brown, trivial pursuit, segment’ arrangement. Our posse pawed in for a morsel each. To be fair there was no complaints on anything here. The meats tender and moist all slicked in a tasty sauce. Goulash won for me. Decent chunks of tender beef in a well seasoned creamy sauce.
A brawny, Viking like helper homed in with a skewer of Chicken and salmon Shashlik. This another highlight. Evidently shashlik is a Baltic charcoal pit. Both efforts were superb, the chicken especially, clearly marinated in something very nice, the flavour and texture then further enhanced from its soak in the fire breathing cauldron. Top stuff.
After more vodka games and with the tummy starting to swell alarmingly in came the selection of Baltic desserts! As ever, The Cook Twit, for you darling readers, had to dig deep and open up the reserve ‘sweet’ stomach. Morsels of Honey cake, cheesecake, chocolate cake and napoleon cake were each delicately forked across the taste buds. And very nice too. The cheesecake wasn’t quite the ‘baked’ type that it should be, but for me European desserts are often a bit sweet and different to ours.
I do recall in the vodka ‘mist’ with the place full and rocking it was a very pleasant place to be. Soft, euro beats filling the gaps between the partying chats. With the lights dimmed the vibe was top notch. I could easily see me, The Flame and a few chums on a cold winters night slugging a few vodkas, noshing a hearty soup and a plate of goulash. Whilst Manchester wallows in its top notch ‘dirty food’ emporiums, it could be that the Baltic Cellar is the place for a change. Let’s hope the Baltic Cellar can get the booths full again and get more nights like this.
The scene was set. Twenty five years of marriage beckoned. The Flame demanded a week of unbridled luxury and decadence. The pressure was on. Sun, sea and warmth was high on The Flames list. Pitched against, was my loathing of the security debacle that surrounds a journey of flight.
Twitter once again came to the rescue. The Pig On The Beach, newly opened in Studland in Dorset, entered the ‘twittersphere’ as did their Food Director James Golding. I was hooked. I set the date immediately. Chuffed with the choice I settled with months to go. Any doubts were soon quashed when the Sunday Times announced that The Pig On The Beach was to be their hotel of the year. The tributes started to flow. Maybe I had picked right after all?
We floated across to Studland from Poole and wound our way down a narrow track. She homed into view. The Pig in all her glory (it must be a she mustn’t it?) A riot of yellow, cream, straw topped turrets amidst a sea of foliage. We crunched our steed into the packed car park (past the rather fetching bronze Pig, guarding the door). It only has twenty three rooms but it seemed the whole of Dorset was in town! Despite being a Monday lunchtime, the place was packed. Diners crammed the restaurant whilst the post lunch crowd slept off their feed in the elegant lounges. As our room was only ready at three we tootled down to the ‘Bankes Arms’ and swooped in a Purbeck IPA (brewed on the premises) for starters. The four day break was starting nicely.
We gleefully romped up the winding steps to our No 11 room. It overlooked the grounds and the Middle Beach of Studland bay, ‘Harrys Rock’ to the right, the fleet of happy, laying hens to the left. Set in the bay window was our very own roll topped bath. The room was elegance and charm personified. Greys, creams, wood and bakerlite completed the rustic, vintage theme.
Thankfully after our long drive we were booked in for dinner (you have to book the restaurant, just like everyone else!). A rumour went round in the afternoon that a ‘bin lid’ sized turbot had been caught off the coast that morning and was being carved up by the chef. I knew what I was having for my main course! As if to emphasise the ‘localness’ of the food offering, the menu changes each service. If The Pig (and its a big If) can’t grow or rear the ingredients itself, the ’25 mile’ menu lets you know where the rest comes from. Talk about fresh and local. The walled kitchen garden is a riot of ‘greenage’ dotted with the flashes of colour from the fruit and flowers of growth. Its a handsome sight.
Dinner is held in the ‘garden room’. A rich mosaic of tiles (Belgian I believe) coat the floor. Bare wooden furniture adorned with a flush of herbs and shrubbery take away any hard edges. Lit to perfection this is a beautiful place to engage with a loved one and dine. The food and wine helps as well though. Every course was stunning, all brilliantly presented. We munched (over a couple of sittings) through an array of fish (turbot, sea bream, cod) meat (lamb, pork, chicken), terrines, tarts, autumn veg, sumptuous ‘puds’ and glorious cheeses. All fresh and local.
Whilst booking is required for dinner, being a guest does net you a breakfast table. Same as dinner but the light is provided by the glorious sunshine peeping over the hills rather than the retro shades. Breakfast is extra though. A tenner lands you a free rein of the finest collection of homemade granolas, muesli’s cheeses, breads, jams, oils, eggs, fruits and yoghurts you’ll ever need. An extra fiver lands you all this plus fancy eggs (benedict, royale, Florentine), hot buttered kippers and the famous ‘Pig Out’. Sticking to the overriding theme it’s all built by the fair hand of a local herd, flock, shoal, bush or artisan. Such was the vastness and quality of choice lunch was bypassed all the time we were there.
To try to ensure this vast input of ‘foodage’ was kept in check a couple of good walks were called for. Swanage is a three-mile scutch on the coastal walk. This takes you past the aforementioned ‘Harrys Rock’. A few great lumps of chalk protruding from the frothy waters. Well worth it. And don’t worry if it rains, you can always borrow some ‘Hunter’ wellies and a brolly from reception!
Sadly for us The Pig does not have a pool, however, for a princely sum various restorative treatments for the mind and body can be acquired. A couple of well-kept, outdoor sheep huts set in the grounds provide the relavant privacy.
All in all we had a thoroughly wonderful time. The bright, young, breezy staff set in their pink and blue, ensured all our needs were fed, watered and kept up to speed. This level of pandering does smart the wallet a bit. Each night peeled a further £189 from The Cooktwit coffers, dinner a good £100 and a decent half bot of ‘Chat of 9 vino’ plumbed in at £36 (though there are cheaper options). It was all worth it though.
There are four Pig Hotels knocking about at the moment. ‘The Pig’ brand heads things up while a subtle strapline tells you where they sit. We stayed at ‘The Pig On The Beach’. I think we will be giving ‘The Pig…near Bath…In The Wall (Southampton)…Brockenhurst New Forest a bit of a seeing to sometime in the future. failing that we will be On The Beach again soon. And so should you!